Woman on Fire (2017) [Toronto Inside Out Film Festival 2017]

Brooke Guinan is the first transgendered woman firefighter in the FDNY, something that has come with challenges beyond her transitioning and her private struggles.  Now seen as an example of a courage and tenacity, she tells her story through showing her life and interviews.

Writer/director Julie Sokolow creates a narrative that is personal, powerful, and touching.  The way she lets Guinan tell her story, how she wants, on her terms, gives the film a depth while making the viewer feel like they are in there with the people involved.  The film is about one woman and her story, but it’s also about the people around her, those affected by her life and how she lives.  The way she shoots the film is unflinching but not exploitive.  It feels like a friend showing the world how great her best friend is.  She shows her in a true light, while also making sure she is comfortable to tell her story and can get her points across.  This creates a film that is easy to watch and consequently makes it easy to like Brooke Guinan.

As the lead and the subject of the documentary, Brooke Guinan is someone that is easy to like and interesting to listen to.  She has a way of talking that can reach many people while also passing her message to them.  Of course, some people will be completely closed to her message, but those are possibly the ones that most need to see this, to see her struggles and her life and understand that she’s just a human woman, trying to make it in a rough world and in a job where women represent 0.41% of the staff, causing it to be difficult for anyone not male.  Besides her transgender story, this is also a story of a woman working in man’s world, a boys’ club.  The FDNY being almost 100% male makes it harder for woman to be accepted and nurtured as potential great firefighters.  Another female firefighter discusses some of the struggles and they are hard enough as a woman born a woman, a transgendered woman has to be on tough lady to make it in this field.

Woman on Fire may be an LGBT story, but it’s also a human one, one where the lead learns to accept who she is and learns to love herself.  It’s a story of perseverance and courage, something that knows no gender or orientation.  The film is non-preachy about its subject which helps it get through more easily.  Brooke Guinan tells her story as it is, bumps in the road, blemishes, and all, which gives her a humanity that transcends her gender, orientation, or career.  She is a complete and complex woman inspiring others.  She shows that courage is something that can inspire courage, she shows how much of an impact opening oneself to criticism can have on others while showing them that being yourself is the best way to live.  She’s an inspiration and this film pays her justice, something so few get while they are alive and able to comprehend that they are an inspiration for others, they brave, they are important.